ATLANTA — Trae Young never lost confidence in himself, even after a run of dismal playoff performances.
Finally, he looked like that charismatic point guard who carried the Atlanta Hawks to the Eastern Conference final two years ago.
Young scored 32 points in his best playoff game since 2021 and the Atlanta Hawks gave themselves a glimmer of hope, beating the Boston Celtics 130-122 Friday night to close the gap to 2-1 in the opening-round series.
Young hit a step-back 3-pointer from the corner with 2:21 left and knocked down another huge basket on a floater in the lane with 45 seconds remaining after Jaylen Brown missed a 3-pointer that would’ve tied it for the Celtics.
The seventh-seeded Hawks will try to even the series against the second-seeded Celtics in Game 4 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena.
“I knew I could play like this,” Young said. “I wasn’t worried.”
Maybe not, but much of the A-T-L was sure doubting if he was truly a franchise player.
Young washed out in an opening-round loss to Miami a year ago, averaging just 15.4 points a game while recording more turnovers (31) than assists (30). He wasn’t much better during the first two games in Boston, connecting on 14 of 40 shots.
But, working in perfect sync with fellow guard Dejounte Murray, Young knocked down 12 of 22 attempts, dished out nine assists and grabbed six rebounds, while committing only four turnovers.
“The guards are supposed to be in control of the game,” Young said. “We consider ourselves two pretty good guards.”
They sure played the part in this one. Murray had another big game for the Hawks with 25 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining that helped Atlanta protect its lead. He added six rebounds and five assists.
“They were talking to each other, figuring out what the other was thinking and playing off each other,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said of his starting backcourt. “At one point, I just told myself to be quiet and let them do it.”
The duo was really at its best when it counted most. Young scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and Murray chipped in with 7, accounting for 22 of Atlanta’s 30 points in the period.
They were the first Hawks teammates to each have at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a playoff game since Lenny Wilkens and Bill Bridges in 1966, when the franchise still called St. Louis home.
Jayson Tatum scored 29 points to lead Boston, which was barely challenged in the first two games of the series.
“We knew it wasn’t to be easy,” said Marcus Smart, who added 24 points for the Celtics.
In Boston, the Celtics pushed out to big leads and cruised to a pair of 13-point victories. In Atlanta, the Hawks finally put up a fight.
With Derrick White forced to the bench in the early going with two quick fouls, the Hawks took advantage of a chink in the Boston defense to get things rolling. Atlanta knocked down 30 of 46 shots (65.2%) in the first half.
Smart said that’s where the Celtics essentially lost the game, allowing the Hawks to gain some much-needed confidence.
“You get that extra boost when you’re back home,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of making things tough on them.”
Pumped up by a standing-room-only crowd, the Hawks built a 14-point lead – their biggest of the series – late in the first half.
But the Celtics responded with eight straight points and went to the locker room down 74-67.
It was Atlanta’ first victory over Boston this season. The Hawks dropped all three regular-season meetings.
The Hawks put up their most points in a playoff game since a 137-125 victory over Detroit in an opening-round series in 1986. They also had seven players in double figures, matching their franchise high in the postseason.